A Mad Experiment

By Charlie Theel, a former Raxxon employee and all-around shady individual.

Thrills and chills; we’re all about ‘em. We sit in our chairs, white-knuckling the arms as our current Kickstarter Juliet hits higher and higher notes. We ride those amped up stretch goal laden mega-campaigns like steel-wheeled coasters skittering across rails several stories high. As the last hours peel away, our hearts thrash inside our breast like a Xenomorph babe long for this world. Marketing is a hell of a drug.

Don Draper taught us about philandering, booze, and how to sell just about anything. In an alternate reality where Don was slinging cardboard instead of cars, Raxxon would be his Coca-Cola. This game is nothing short of brilliant at a conceptual level.

The story goes like this: 50 copies were originally released to a select few. Each arrives with a login code that gives you access to a special website titled “My Raxxon”. Quaint. Each recipient is given an allocation of three invite codes and the process repeats. It’s viral marketing for a viral game.

Designs have finally extended that sacrosanct notion of theme beyond a shared play experience and all the way to acquisition. It’s engaging social theater at a global level. You can even track your invitees and their subsequent transmission via spider-web diagram. It’s hard not to get caught up in it all like that weekend when you binge watched Making a Murderer and slammed down three boxes of wine.

When you wake up the next day after a long night of Raxxoning, you won’t have a throbbing noggin or urine-scented sweat pants. In fact, you won’t really have much at all. That’s not to say this game is empty or completely mailed-in, no, there’s a game here and at its best it offers a succinctly compelling abstract challenge with interjected moments of story. But it’s the epitome of just another game.


The magic of this hobby is the ability for some ink and paper to turn your mind into an internal combustion engine. We’re not just pushing around pawns. These plastic dudes and dudettes are tearing up the valley of skulls and Scrooge Mcducking piles of treasure. When the dragon explodes from his perch and seeks retribution you can feel the heat emanating from the table. These aren’t just games-they’re something more.

Raxxon won’t set your skin a-tingling. It won’t compel you to work through sophisticated decisions trees and their intersection with your strategic plans. You won’t be recalling dramatic moments where one slip-up caused a firing line of dominos to cascade and set the world ablaze.

In addition to its character flaws, Raxxon suffers from being too cavalier with public information. This means big Johnny can railroad the group into his bidding and all you can do is kick him in the junk or bail on game night. Of course, this has the pleasant side effect of producing a mechanically sound solo experience. Unfortunately, without communication and a level of social interaction the game’s charm wears off exceptionally quickly. Actions become rote and Raxxon becomes a synonym for repetition.

Yet there are moments where it’s pretty keen. Laying rows of cards to form a crowd and then utilizing unique abilities to sort through those little cardboard squares feels good. Good in the sense that it’s all about to cave in and go pear shaped at any moment. Turning over members of the crowd, readjusting their position, and sending clusters of individuals who are bleeding out of every orifice to quarantine doesn’t sound amazing, but it does capture the game’s theme wonderfully. You get that sense of conducting a search and fighting against a wave of unruly humans presently devolving to their basest instincts.

People? Yuck. Shoulda stayed home.

Narrative is injected at staccato-like intervals via the Raxxon card mechanism. This hearkens to Dead of Winter’s famous Crossroads system. You hit that prompt, pluck the top card from the stack, and begin reading:

MOM / PART 2    
Oooh. What’s she doing here? I flee to cardboard and the basement to get away from that bat.
If an infected card is face-up in the crowd and the MOM / Part 1 card is in the triggered Raxxon pile…
Dammit. I thought that termagant was finally gonna get her day.

Next turn we draw another one:

Nice. Maybe this one’s about my high school experience...
If there are 1 or more CHAOTIC cards face-up in the crowd.
Ugh. Well, there was a minute ago. Go eff yourself Raxxon.

Sometimes they will actually trigger and tantalizing things will happen. Those 300 gsm equilaterals get a brief respite of personality. The game comes alive just a little bit and that engine starts to pick up RPM.

Some stories chain and your decisions have lasting impact. Hit that MOM / PART 1 card and you can finally tell her to shove off. But it may come back to bite you later (wink-wink). Yeah, little Timmy’s screaming and calling you a heartless bastard but the world’s raining ash and someone has to make the tough decisions.

Ma, is that you?

All of these solid ornaments adorn a pretty bare tree. Raxxon suffers primarily because it struggles to really stand out mechanically and achieve a level of greatness - at least when you stare it directly in the face.

To reach a real satisfaction you need to pick up a kazoo and join the parade. All those exterior bits outside the actual play-space make up its DNA. The lurid hunt. Logging into a secret website. Discovering hidden bits of propaganda and scrutinizing every slice of text as you attempt to piece together a mythology to offer meaning where none likely exists.

There are moments where legitimate potential rears its fascinating head. Several scenarios exist online along with the ability to track your win/loss result. These setups offer a touch of progressing narrative and twist the mechanics in interesting ways. They change how cards operate and pull the rug out from under you.

Often it will prompt you to click a button that reveals a hidden effect when a specific type of card is drawn. It also tracks your progress during a scenario so results may continuously get worse like a spout of gangrene working its way through your flesh. Your imagination will run wild with the possibilities of this electronic integration and an imagined future for this design.

That promise hasn’t really materialized at this stage. After playing through the majority of the scenarios no hidden content was unlocked or earth-shaking surprises revealed. Once the well starts to run dry the jig is up and that mythology fades like Damon Lindelof pulling back the curtain on the Dharma Initiative.

There’s some chatter that this game may eventually see a retail release sans marketing bells and whistles. This would be a monumental mistake. Without the lure of the chase and fight for entry to the secret club, the mystique will be gone. Those theatrics are Raxxon, not a couple decks of cards and some tokens.

Raxxon the social experiment is brilliant. Raxxon the game, well, it’s just a game.